9 Must-Know Sento Rules Before Coming to Japan!

9 Must-Know Sento Rules Before Coming to Japan

Say what you like about Japanese, but we are freak about hygiene! Perhaps our natural abundance supply of water, much of it volcanically heated, explains the timeless Japanese obsession with bathing. Of course, there was a time when few homes had their own bathrooms, yet all communities would choose to go to sento, the Japanese style public bath house. Until quite recently, many Japanese find sento as mistakenly placed in time but they have been enjoying a renaissance in recent years and their number and popularity are rising steadily. For the foreign visitor or resident, sento can offer a uniquely Japanese experience and cultural insight, if not a real sense of achievement in overcoming inhibitions! To this end, here are my top nine rules for the brave at heart.



 

9 Must-Know Sento Rules Before Coming to Japan!

 

1. Don’t Be Shy!

There is no escaping the fact that going to a sento means getting naked with a bunch of strangers. But nobody will care about, just as you will avoid staring at them. Trusting this unwritten rule is how the Japanese have enjoyed sento bathing for centuries.

 

2. Shoes Off!

When you enter a traditional or local sento, as with onsen, you will find a small entrance hall (genkan) where you should remove your shoes and put them away. You may wear slippers provided inside designated areas of the sento.

 

3. Payment

Before you enter the bath house proper, there will be a desk where you can pay, and a price list. In more modern sento, there may be a ticket vending machine with multi-lingual instructions. Whatever style of sento you visit, the procedure for payment and entering should be clear. Prices vary with establishments but are around ¥500 on average per adult, and less for children.

 

4. Men & Women

There are separate changing areas for men and women, so make sure you do not go through the wrong door by mistake! Regular onsen/sento bathers should learn to recognise the kanji for male (男) and female (女).

 

5. The Changing Room

Changing rooms vary, but usually have tatami mat or wooden floors, and lockers for your clothes and other items. Strip completely and, when ready, go through to the sento bath house proper. The only items you should take with you will be a small towel, usually provided, for modesty and any toiletries you brought with you. It is a good idea to bring your own toiletries but larger sento often provide body soap, shampoo and conditioner.

 

6. Wash and Rinse

In the bath house, sit on a stool at the hot and cold taps and/or shower head and wash and rinse your body and hair thoroughly. It is very important you rinse away all traces of soap and shampoo before proceeding to the baths. If you use the small towel for washing, make sure this too is free of suds

 

7. Bathing

Head for The bath of your choice using the small towel to cover your privates, and get into the water, slowly, as it will be very hot! You can fold the small towel on the rim of the bath, but never let it get into the water. Many sento offer a variety of baths with different mineral qualities or fragrances. If you change from one bath to another, rinse your body again with warm water before entering the next bath.

 

8. Dos & Don’ts

As with onsen, sento are communal, social and restorative, so bathers must make every effort not to disturb fellow bathers by splashing, swimming or shouting. Bathers who need to urinate should leave the bath and visit the lavatory. In fact, sento water contains special chemicals that cleanse the presence and source of urine! Women should not bathe during menstruation.

 

9. After Bathing

When you have finished soaking in the baths, you should wipe your body with the small towel and head back to the changing area. Some larger sento offer areas where you can cool off before changing into your clothes.

 

Conclusion

Bathing in Japan has long been a communal and social activity, so perhaps the recent increase in sento bathing echoes a need amongst younger, single Japanese living in small apartments with tiny, impersonal bathrooms, to connect with each other and their cultural heritage. Similarly, foreign residents and visitors may find visiting a sento is valuable in integrating with the community or connecting with Japanese culture in a personal. In Tokyo, the Daikokuyu sento in Honjo, close to Tokyo Sky Tree, is highly recommended. So too is Rokuryu Kosen, near to Ueno Zoo and the Metropolitan Art Museum. The Asakusa area also has many sento, but wherever you plan to travel in Japan, I hope you will seek out and try the sento tradition for yourself.

 

9 Must-Know Sento Rules Before Coming to Japan!

1. Don’t Be Shy!
2. Shoes Off!
3. Payment
4. Men & Women
5. The Changing Room
6. Wash and Rinse
7. Bathing
8. Dos & Don’ts
9. After Bathing